If the Boston Celtics 6-game win streak was going to end, it was bound to end here, you’d think: The new-look Oklahoma City Thunder have dominated most opponents thus far with the Russell Westbrook-Paul George-Carmelo Anthony triumvirate. For half of the game it looked like the Cs would suffer the same fate. But basketball has–get this, it’s crazy–two halves, and in the second, Boston overcame an 18-point deficit to continue their winning run.
the game flow:
Brad Stevens knew he’d need plenty of creativity to go against a team with as much firepower as the Thunder, and showed it early by calling some unconventional plays for his Cs: 4-5 PNRs, lighting backdoor cuts and drives, et. al. It didn’t work as well as one would hope, and Boston had better offensive luck early on when Jayson Tatum got stuck into isolations.
OKC’s offense, by contrast, is an ultimatum in motion when at its best, and George’s relentlessness served as its latest example. Westbrook, by his standards, had a slow start, but George’s buckets along with shameless and successful three-chucking by Alex Abrines quickly carried the Thunder to a double-digit lead by Q1’s end. Their defense also deserves credit–the squad isn’t full of guys with a relentless-challenger mentality other than Westbrook and maybe George, but they all have good length that creates pressure by default.
A herky-jerky rhythm afflicted much of this first half, some of it turnover- and miscue-related but most of it stemming from the inevitable superstar foul calls afforded Westbrook, George and Anthony. One particularly egregious moment had Daniel Theis cleanly defending a RWB isolation in the paint, contesting without meaningful contact to derail a shot, but Westbrook got the officiating bailout as he knew he would.
Despite this, the Celtics managed to get almost within single digits thanks to outside shooting by Tatum and Marcus Smart. But OKC’s big three pulled its weight and then some. That, plus just enough from Abrines and Jerami Grant and Boston’s inability to establish any offensive groove, left us at the halfway point with our heroes in a miserable 18-point deficit.
Once the third quarter started, Boston remained down but looked considerably more like the team we’ve seen for most of this season. Marcus Morris, present but ineffective in the first half, started the second and immediately got some buckets–9 points in about 6 minutes. If only Kyrie could have done that well, who had only 6 points for the game with approximately 4 minutes left on the 3rd, having shot 2-11 up to that point and not even made up for it by assisting well (2 dimes, 4 boards)…
…But Kyrie as taketh away, so does Kyrie also giveth, as Cavaliers fans have long known: Irving doubled his points in about two minutes, Smart and Horford made the most of second-chance opportunities they were previously missing and the team overall exhibited clear signs of communication and competitive fervor absent earlier in the contest. And just like that, OKC’s lead was only single digits, in no small part stemming from turnovers and bad shooting–for a moment just a single point, and only 71-67 at Q3’s end.
Intensity bubbled over on Boston’s part to start the 4th, and the game remained only two possessions apart in OKC’s favor. (Imagine if they’d been this intense the whole time. Blah.) Defensive toughness from Jaylen Brown, Semi Ojeleye and Aron Baynes kept OKC’s scoring from getting out of control. A lucky series of treys by Ojeleye, Kyrie and Horford, along with hard-earned rebounding by Brown, a Kyrie five-point play that had to be seen to be believed, and they had a lead. A goddamned lead. It would remain that way until the end of the game.
But what remains far more remarkable is the absolutely clutch run that Horford went on from behind the arc, which would be the true turnaround factor in this contest even with Kyrie’s excellent scoring recovery. Al Horford is stereotyped, with some fairness due to unfortunate playoff matchups, as a player who fades in the face of true challenges. Trying to beat a confirmed Western Conference powerhouse in their building, early season or no, is a true challenge, and Al rose to it, ending the game with 20. Kyrie, who scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half, did the same, and after some foul-game formality the Cs took the 101-94 win.
THE HOT AND NOT
Hot: Marcus Morris quickly looking comfortable with the team; the entire squad playing a role in the fourth-quarter comeback; BUSINESS BOOMING AT THE OJELEYE FACTORY.
Not: The entire first half, especially Kyrie’s shooting; some calls that even by the curved grade of superstar calls were fucking ridiculous; terrible rebounding.
Tonight gave us some of the agony that is Kyrie, but more of the ecstasy. That’s what counts. Observe:
Smart drive for a kick-out to Horford for one of those huge treys:
TWEET OF THE NIGHT:
A strange dispatch from an unknown trashposter, but entirely apt: